Militant Islamist group al Shabaab struck a Somali government military base on Wednesday with car bombs and gunfire in a battle that both sides said caused multiple deaths to the other.
Witnesses said some local residents were also killed by stray crossfire during the mid-morning attack on the base in Awdheegle, 70 km (43 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu.
Al Shabaab is fighting the weak, U.N.-backed Somali government and its international allies in a quest to impose its strict interpretation of Islamic law. The Horn of Africa nation has been riven by civil war since 1992, when clan-based warlords overthrew a dictator, then turned on each other.
General Yusuf Rage Odowa, commander of operations in Somalia’s army, said troops had repelled the jihadists in Awdheegle. “The forces knew the cunning of the militants and so they foiled the attack,” he said, adding that various of the attackers’ corpses lay at the scene while others were captured.
Captain Hussein Ali, a military officer from a nearby town, said soldiers behind sandbags had successfully stopped the car bombs from reaching the base, in an agricultural district along the Shabelle River, by firing to detonate them.
“There are casualties from al Shabaab and government forces, but we have no exact figure,” he said.
The al Qaeda-linked group said it had killed 50 soldiers and only suffered two losses of militants who drove the car bombs. Army vehicles were burned, it also said.
Al Shabaab and government officials routinely give different versions and casualty figures for attacks.